Lady Elizabeth Scales: First Wife of Anthony Woodville

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, married twice: the first time to Elizabeth Scales, the second time to Mary FitzLewis. This post is about his first wife, Elizabeth Scales.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas, Lord Scales, and his wife, whose name is spelled variously as Ismania, Ismanie, and Esmania. Ismania was a daughter of a Cornishman named Whalesburgh. Described in Anthony’s inquisitions postmortem as 24 or more at her father’s death in 1460, Elizabeth Scales was born around 1436. Besides Elizabeth, Lord Scales and his wife had a son, Thomas, who predeceased his father.

Elizabeth Scales’ mother was one of the principal attendants of Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, receiving forty pounds per annum in 1452-53.

Lord Scales, born around 1399, had a long record of military service in France, where he remained almost continually from 1424 to 1449. He was made lieutenant-general of western Normandy in 1435; it is possible that Elizabeth was born there. At Rouen in 1442, Lord Scales had served as a godfather at the christening of the future Edward IV.

Lord Scales was at his principal manor at Middleton at Christmas 1445 when the mayor and council presented a nativity play there, with a cast that included a John Clerk as the Virgin Mary and a person with the surname of Gilbert as the angel Gabriel. The nine-year-old Elizabeth would have been at an age to enjoy this thoroughly.

Elizabeth’s father had strong ties with the Woodville family from early on. Created a Knight of the Garter in 1425, Lord Scales nominated Anthony’s father, Richard Woodville, Lord Rivers, as a Garter knight in 1450. That same year, Lord Scales and Lord Rivers were among the men appointed by the king to put down Jack Cade’s rebellion. Interestingly, when Richard, Duke of York—whose son Lord Scales had stood godfather for in 1442—placed his grievances before the king that autumn, Lord Scales and Lord Rivers accompanied him.

Lord Scales, however, remained loyal to Henry VI during the upheavals of the 1450’s. In the summer of 1460, when the exiled Earls of March, Warwick, and Salisbury returned to England with the intention of seizing power, Lord Scales and Robert, Lord Hungerford, held the Tower for the king. Besieged by the Yorkists, the forces inside the Tower cast wild fire and shot guns into the city, to the injury of “men and women and children in the streets,” as reported by the English Chronicle. When the Yorkists, having defeated the Lancastrians at Northampton, returned to London with Henry VI in their power, Scales and Hungerford surrendered on 19 July.

Uncertain how he would fare in the hands of the Londoners, Scales, accompanied by three others, found a boat late that evening and rowed toward Westminster, with the intention of taking sanctuary there. Tipped off by a woman who recognized Lord Scales, a group of boatmen surrounded him, murdered him, and dumped his naked body at St. Mary Overy at Southwark, where he lay for several hours before his godson the Earl of March (later Edward IV) came upon the scene and arranged a proper burial for him. It was, as the English Chronicle noted, a “great pity” that “so noble and worshipful a knight,” who had served so valiantly in France, should meet such an ignominious death.

Chroniclers seldom bothered to record the reactions of the wives and daughters of those slain during the Wars of the Roses, and they made no exception in the case of Elizabeth Scales. By this time, she was a widow, having been married previously to Henry Bourchier, the second son of the Earl of Essex by the same name. His death probably took place in August 1458. If any children were born to the couple, they did not survive.

Exactly when Elizabeth married Anthony Woodville is unknown, but contrary to what is sometimes claimed, it is beyond dispute that the marriage took place well before Anthony’s sister became the queen of England. The couple had certainly married before 4 April 1461, when William Paston reported mistakenly that that Anthony, Lord Scales—the title that Anthony took in right of Elizabeth—had been killed at the battle of Towton. Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, writing three days later, also reported that the dead included “Anthony, son of Lord le Ryver, who was recently made Lord le Scales.”

Earlier, following the Lancastrian victory at the second battle of St. Albans on 17 February 1461, the Londoners had included Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham, and Lady Scales in a delegation sent to Margaret of Anjou to beg for mercy for the city. Does “Lady Scales“ refer to Elizabeth or to her mother? Ismania had been prominent among Margaret’s ladies and would thus be a natural candidate for the task of negotiating with the queen, but it is not certain that she was still alive at this date; there is no indication that she held any lands in dower or jointure, as she would have if she had survived her husband. It may be, then, that “Lady Scales” refers to Elizabeth Scales and that she had joined Jacquetta, Anthony’s mother, in the negotiations.

Whether Anthony and Elizabeth’s parents helped bring the couple together, or whether the couple initiated their marriage on their own, is unknown. Elizabeth’s inheritance as Scales’ only child gave her an obvious attraction for Anthony, and his own status as the eldest son gave him an obvious attraction for Elizabeth, but there is nothing to indicate whether personal attraction played a role in the marriage as well. It is not certain how great the age difference between the pair was. Anthony was listed in his mother’s 1472 post-mortem inquisition as being “of the age of thirty years and more,” which would put his birth date at around 1442 (to Elizabeth’s probable birth date of 1436), but “the more” allows plenty of hedge room and leaves open the possibility that he was born earlier in his parents’ marriage, which took place by 23 March 1537.

Elizabeth’s inheritance included lands in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, and Suffolk. The heart of the Scales estate was Middleton, near Bishop’s Lynn (later King’s Lynn). The town of Lynn often sent gifts of wine to Lord and Lady Scales, whose minstrels also appear in the records.

Lady Scales features in the records of John Howard, who later became the Duke of Norfolk. In September 1464, Howard rewarded her messenger for bringing him a letter from Elizabeth. While the king was at Reading in November, Howard lent Elizabeth, who was there with her husband, 8s 3d to play at cards. The party moved on to spend Christmas at Eltham with the king; there, on 1 January 1465, Howard gave 12d to “my lord Scales chyld.” Anne Crawford has pointed out that the “child” was probably a page who was bringing a New Year’s gift to Howard from Anthony and Elizabeth, as opposed to the offspring of either Lord or Lady Scales, although Anthony did have an illegitimate daughter.

Meanwhile, of course, Elizabeth Woodville, Anthony’s sister, had married Edward IV, the godson of Thomas, Lord Scales. Lady Scales was prominent among the attendants of her sister-in-law the queen. In 1466-67, like the queen’s sister Anne, who was married to William, Viscount Bourchier, Lady Scales received forty pounds per annum for her services (the same rate that her mother had received when serving Margaret of Anjou).

In 1466, Anthony and Elizabeth engaged in a series of complex legal maneuvers to ensure that if Elizabeth predeceased Anthony without having borne him a child, the Scales estates would stay in Anthony’s hands instead going to Elizabeth’s heirs. While this did have the effect of subverting the normal laws of inheritance, there is no reason to assume that Elizabeth would have preferred that the land go to her rather distant cousins instead of to her husband.

When Edward IV’s sister Margaret traveled to Burgundy to marry its duke, Charles, in July 1468, Anthony Woodville served as her presenter. Prominent among the English ladies accompanying Margaret to her wedding was Lady Scales. The marriage took place with all of the ceremonial splendour one could expect of the Burgundian court. It certainly overawed John Paston, who wrote in a letter home, “And as for the duke’s court, as of lords, ladies and gentlewomen, knights, squires and gentlemen, I have never of no like to it, save King Arthur’s court. And by my trowth, I have no wit nor remembrance to write to you, half the worship that is here.”

Anthony and Elizabeth’s return to England was soon followed by tragedy: in August 1469, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, having rebelled against Edward IV and taken the king temporarily into his custody, ordered the executions of Anthony’s father, Earl Rivers, and of his younger brother John—executions that were entirely illegal, as both Earl Rivers and John had been supporting the king that Warwick himself still recognized as his ruler. Anthony and Elizabeth now had in common the fact that each had suffered the murder of a father.

The continuing political upheaval led to Edward IV fleeing England in the autumn of 1470. With him into exile went a number of loyal supporters, including Anthony. Where Lady Scales spent the next few months is unknown. She may have joined her mother-in-law, Jacquetta, and Queen Elizabeth in sanctuary at Westminster, but I know of no source placing her there.

After Edward scored a Yorkist victory at Barnet, he returned to London briefly before marching out to encounter Margaret of Anjou’s forces. Anthony Woodville and the Earl of Essex (Elizabeth Scales’ father-in-law from her first marriage) were left to defend London from an attack by the Bastard of Fauconberg. Queen Elizabeth and her children were lodged in the Tower for their safety; perhaps Elizabeth Scales was with them.

Edward IV was back on his throne in May 1471, but Elizabeth Scales had little time to enjoy the peace that followed. According to Anthony’s inquisitions post mortems, she died on September 2, 1473. Anthony married Mary FitzLewis in around 1480. He was executed on orders of the future Richard III at Pontefract on 25 June 1483.

In his will, written at Sheriff Hutton two days before his death, Anthony, having left the Scales lands to his brother Edward, asked that 500 marks be used for prayers for the souls of Lady Scales, her brother Thomas, and the souls of all of the Scales family. In an unsympathetic article about Anthony, Lynda Pidgeon states that in his will, Anthony “makes no affectionate mention of [Elizabeth] or desire to be buried beside her” and that he appeared to do only the bare minimum to provide for her soul and those of others. Pidgeon concludes, “The will was business like: it met the requirements of his soul and those of his family and little else. . . . Perhaps he simply did not have feelings for anyone else.” This judgment overlooks the fact that many if not most wills of the period are businesslike documents, without sentimental effusions; it also fails to consider that Anthony, unlike testators expecting to meet a natural death or preparing for the eventuality of dying honorably in battle, was under the enormous stress of facing execution for a crime he most likely did not commit. Moreover, as one who was about to be executed, he could expect his lands to be forfeit to the crown and would have to hope that arrangements would be made to pay his debts and to honor his bequests; he was hardly in a position to make extravagant provisions for the dead. As it was, it does not appear that his will was ever admitted to probate during Richard III’s reign.

Anthony, possibly anticipating that he would be brought south for the trial before his peers that was his right as an earl, initially asked in his will that if he died beyond the River Trent, he be buried in the chapel of the Lady of Pewe  at Westminster. At the end of his will, having apparently learned by then that he would be executed at Pontefract, he asked that he be buried there before an image of the Virgin Mary with his nephew Richard Grey, who was also facing execution. Anthony’s failure to request burial beside his first wife (whose burial place is not known) need not show lack of affection for her; it may simply indicate a strong devotion to the Virgin that took precedent over earthly attachments. Moreover, as a condemned man he could not expect that the crown would go to the expense and trouble of bringing his body to lie beside that of Lady Scales, unless she happened to have been buried at a place that was convenient for her husband’s burial.

In 1485, following the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth, the heirs to the Scales lands were determined. One was Sir William Tyndale; the other was John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a diehard Lancastrian who had been instrumental in bringing Henry VII to the throne.


Helen Castor, ‘Scales, Thomas, seventh Baron Scales (1399?–1460)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 9 Sept 2012]

Complete Peerage

Anne Crawford, Yorkist Lord: John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, c. 1425-1485. London: Continuum, 2010.

Henry Harrod, Report on the Deeds and Records of the Borough of King’s Lynn. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1874.

Susan Higginbotham, The Woodvilles (manuscript in progress).

Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of the Corporations of Southampton and King’s Lynn. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1887.

Ian Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain: A Chronological Topography to 1558. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Lynda Pidgeon, “Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends, and Affinity.” Part 2. Ricardian, 2006.

A. R. Myers, Crown, Household and Parliament in Fifteenth Century England. London: Hambleton Press, 1985.

James Ross, John de Vere: Thirteenth Earl of Oxford 1442-1513. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2011.

The National Archives





19 thoughts on “Lady Elizabeth Scales: First Wife of Anthony Woodville”

  1. Two questions – how on earth do you find such incredible details and secondly, how do you keep all the characters straight? In eras like this everyone seems to have more than one name, more than one marriage and so on. Do you make a diagram? And how do you present your characters so that the reader is not confused!

    1. Thanks, Mary! I look in every source I can access–and sometimes I pull up things when I’m researching something entirely different. I don’t make a diagram–they never were my strong point. I do sometimes make a timeline to keep important dates straight.

  2. There’s also this about Thomas, Lord Scales’ career you might include:
    1459/60 The earl of Wiltshire, Lord Scales, and Lord Hungerford went to Newbury ‘which belonged to the Duke of York, and there made inquisition of all them that in any wise had favored the said Duke, whereof some were found guilty, and were drawn, hanged and quartered, and all the inhabitants of the town were spoiled of their goods.’ This left other people elsewhere in England frightened. Stowe. Annales, p408

    1. Thanks, Gail! Since the post was about his daughter, I naturally concentrated on the details of her life instead of her father’s career.

  3. I really enjoyed the post, but had a chuckle too. I find it amusing that the Lord of Scales and family were so close to the Rivers family in that Jacquetta was supposed to be Melusine.
    Love the War of the Roses period, all the throne hopping etc. Well done.

  4. Susan:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post on Elizabeth Scales. We suspect that our family is somehow connected to this line of the Scales, but have not been able to document same. Oral family tradition holds that our family was once English nobility, but this status was lost long ago. Our direct and uninterupted Scales liniage dates back to the 1750’s in Rockingham County, North Carolina. Our line of Scales is now all across the United States (primarily in the South). Our specific line has been in Texas since the 1850’s.

    Thanks again for all the great work – these were clearly powerful and high-profile people that lived in a dangerous time.

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